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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Why the freak-out about marijuana businesses in Kittitas county?

Marijuana processing workers in Colorado.
The freak-out about marijuana businesses in Kittitas county is an interesting thing. I'll write about the main cause of the situation soon, but first, a look at some secondary causes.

To try to understand how we got here, it is useful to compare Kittitas county with Grant county, just across the Columbia River from us. While Initiative 502 (which made recreational marijuana legal when it was passed by a state-wide vote of 55.7%) failed narrowly in Kittitas county with 51.58% no votes, it was decisively defeated in Grant county, with 55.41% no votes.

In spite of the very strong no vote, the Grant county Planning Department issued a 5-page policy on marijuana on December 13, 2013. The Department recommended that marijuana production be allowed on any land that could be used to grow other crops.

Kittitas County, on the other hand, took until May 2014 to issue a 48-page policy, including changes to the County Code. The county's response to Initative 502 was led by Commissioner O'Brien.

What was the public reaction? In Grant county, there has been little, if any, public reaction -- and no public outcry -- about marijuana production.1 In Kittitas county there has been considerable outcry, so much so that the Kittitas county Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) caved and revised the regulations, adding to the hoops marijuana entrepreneurs must jump through.2 This was a blow to the budding Kittitas county marijuana industry, which faces competition from nearly every other county in the state.

Why the difference in reaction? Probably at least the following factors played a role:
  1. Nearly all of the people who live outside of towns in Grant county are involved in agriculture in some way -- a positive result of Grant county's compliance with the Growth Management Act.3
  2. People who live outside towns in Grant county are reluctant to tell their neighbors what they can or cannot do with their land.
  3. A great diversity of crops is produced in Grant county, literally from asparagus to watermelon (and possibly zucchini). In addition, corn fields have traditionally been used for small but illicit growing operations, sometimes by the children of farmers (or by now-grown farmers' younger selves).4
  4. Grant County marijuana regulations were timely, clear, and easy to understand.
One concern in Kittitas county is the export hay market, but it is important to realize that there is significant export hay production in Grant county, too, including production by well-known Kittitas county hay companies.

1I skimmed through all 258 hits from the linked search of the Columbia Basin Herald website and didn't see a single article indicating concern about the new marijuana regulations.
2The same search of the Ellensburg Daily Record's website (for the word "marijuana") yielded over 1500 hits, and several articles about concern over the new regulations appeared in the top 20 hits.
3 Kittitas county remains out of compliance with the GMA until the Hearings Board rules on the county's efforts to come into compliance. A ruling is expected soon, and it is expected the county will be declared in compliance. Finally.
4I grew up on a farm in Grant county, and I may know some of these people.

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